Love, honor, and protect the written word.
February 16, 2014
I’ve admitted it before: I love words, and, conversely, it causes me physical discomfort (and even agitation) when simple grammatical phrases are misused, abused, and generally disrespected by the very professionals who are (ostensibly) supposed to treat them kindly.
One of the more popular commercials that aired for the Super Bowl this year was notable for one reason only: it featured the salaciously sultry, perennially pouty, gregariously gorgeous Scarlett Johansson. Now I do not fault the advertisers for whatever product they were hawking (funny how utilizing particularly ambrosial spokespersons can leave a consumer unaware of the product). I do happen to remember what product dishy Scarlett was pushing (soda maker), but only because of the (arguably) egregious misuse of common grammar by the advertisement’s writers:
Scarlett: “less sugar, less bottles.”
Ouch. Though I was still not able to tear my gaze from those delectable lips on that lucky straw, my grammar hackles stood straight up and I was tempted to call 811 (emergency line straight to the undercover grammar police). I did not, however, call in the offense, but only out of respect for Ms. Johansson (who could not be blamed for the wordsmiths who created the script for the 4-million dollar ad spot).
The faux pas did prompt me to write my first grammar blog of 2014. Hey, it’s already almost mid-February. I am normally (self-) called to action much earlier in the new year. Maybe after reading this post, you’ll think I am too touchy; that I am being picky. But perhaps you, too, cringe when the English language (yes, our American, allegedly-bastardized version) is trampled upon.
So without further commentary, let’s dive headlong into the raw facts:
It’s “less” when it refers to a more intangible (uncountable) substance or collection.
Less love. Less discrimination. Less misuse of the English language.
It’s “fewer” when we’re discussing something that can be counted individually. Like bottles.
Fewer donuts. Fewer drunken sailors. Fewer cats being juggled.
And of course, one misuse got to me thinking about more, semi-common, slaughterhouse grammar:
Interest is piqued; it is not peaked. Technically, interest can peak—as in “reach a maximum”–but it cannot be peaked. And it is never, EVER peeked. Easiest way to remember?
“The description of the mountain peak really piqued my interest, and I took a peek.”
Many expressions become so misused that they actually reach that critical mass where the incorrect version is more common than the correct, and our culture begins a process I believe began in the late twentieth century (and abhors me as a linguist): gradually “accepting” an incorrect term simply because of its mass proliferation. It’s happening more and more these days, this “giving in” to the collectively incorrect.
In other words: correctness by numbers.
I could care less.
I hear this version much more often than the correct usage: I could NOT care less.
Think about the translation of the first. It literally means “I am capable of caring less than I do currently.” Now if that were the meaning the speaker sought, there would be nothing grammatically incorrect. But 99% (if not 100%) of the time, the speaker means to say “I am not capable of caring less about this subject.” In other words, the speaker has reached rock bottom, and is done with whatever it is they reference.
But the incorrect usage is slowly seeping into “acceptable speech”.
I say we don’t bend. Ever. I know, it sounds like your high school English teacher—no flexibility whatsoever. But think about it. Did your Chemistry teacher attempt to change particular abbreviations in the Periodic Table of Elements? Did your Physics teacher advocate the selective deconstruction of the physical laws and forces of our universe?
Why, then, it is considered acceptable to snap whatever law of grammar we wish, simply because a majority of (lazy, anarchist, agnostic, moronic, complacent, pick your adjective) people butcher it? I say it’s not okay.
Affect is primarily a verb. Effect is primarily a noun.
(You affect my grammatical sensibilities enough to have the effect of pissing me off.)
You are supposed to know that the correct term is used to; you are not suppose tothink it’s use to.
If you didn’t devote less time to grammar than to Physics, then you would know the difference in the aforementioned words.
Lying is bad, unless it is to lie down (you lay down an object, like a gun—or your book on grammar).
You accept a gift; except when you are grammatically incorrect (or ungrateful).
Your football team loses the big game because your ball-carriers had loose grips, and fumbled too much.
There are, of course, myriad examples of other even more common errors (their, they’re, there; to, too, two; you’re, your; sit, set). It may seem petty to people, but when you write for a living (or even simply for pleasure), and you expect people to read what you’ve composed, it should not (seem petty, that is). Your words—moreover, your usage of words—defines you.
Don’t be someone who could not care less about their grammar. Lie down, think about the things, as a writer, you are supposed to be thinking about. Acceptconstructive criticism, except when you know it to be incorrect.
Be one of the protectors of the written word: affect those who would change meanings on a whim, causing an ultimately negative effecton our language.
‘Nuff said. I don’t want you to loose your concentration, lay down in frustration, thinking “their just trying to confuse me”, or, worse, get to the point where you could care less. I realize they’re are probably many of you who’ve already setdown, to tired to go on, effectedmore negatively then the timeyou’re grandma put curry instead of cumin into the family pumpkin pie.
S’okay. Fret not. There’s still time to jump on the bandwagon and bring home the big win. You can still do your part.
Be a proponent.
Or don’t. After all, its a free country.
Please click the book cover image to read more about R. S. Guthrie and his novels, all of which are packed with words he knows, love, honors, respects, and will protect.